The Omani teams aim high at this year’s EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour (EFG SATT) as former newcomers Team Al Mouj and all-star veterans Team Renaissance announce their return to the sailing competition.
At the 2015 edition, Team Al Mouj Muscat were the newcomers on the block with ambitious plans to spring a surprise, which they duly did when they finished on the podium in the opening round of the epic two-week quest for honours. With backing from the Sultanate of Oman’s ultimate leisure and lifestyle destination in Muscat, they proved to be masters of ‘round the buoys’ racing at the three in-port events and clinched an overall second place finish behind winners EFG Bank Monaco.
With multiple years of the SATT course and their own sailing records, Team Renaissance plan to keep competition high with Al Mouj and the wider race line-up. Since Fahad Al Hasni first competed in the inaugural EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour (EFG SATT) back in 2011, he has dreamt of standing at the top of the podium, having won fair and square with a team made up of Omani sailors. The team came close in last year’s SATT with a near miss at the podium spot by just one agonising point behind Team Averda during a spirited offshore leg.
This year in his seventh attempt at the title, Hasni has his best chance as skipper of Team Renaissance, which is sponsored by the Omani multinational oil and gas company. Comprising of 90 per cent Omani talent, Team Renaissance also has French navigator Guillaume Berenger aboard, and is having to brush up on his Arabic to offer directions.
“We have consistently finished in the top half of the fleet, with a fourth last year. So it would be great to be on the podium this time,” said Al Hasni, who has become Oman’s most accomplished offshore sailor with the Round Ireland world speed record among his many accolades. “I have always found EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour challenging and with a 90 per cent Omani crew, it will be even more of a test of our skills.”
For its part, Team Al Mouj brings a new skipper to the 2017 edition, with Frenchman Christian Ponthieu stepping into Nico Lunven’s shoes after being part of the successful campaign in 2016. As with last year, the team will comprise two Omani sailors, Sultan Al Balushi and Nawaf Al Ghadani as well as some familiar faces. Gilles Favennec returns as trimmer while Erwan Le Roux takes on the role of navigator with another French sailor Gregory Gendron and Will Harris from Britain ready to turn up the heat at the front of the fleet.
Ponthieu commented on the thrilling route of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, which continues to draw the top-class sailors back to the Gulf race track: “With the changes to the Tour de France a la Voile, EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour has become one of the only events in the calendar where we can test our offshore skills in the long legs and our match racing skills in the in-port races.”
He continued, “This is a very interesting and varied regatta which rewards the best all round crew. We scored a lot of points in the in-port racing last year and felt we could have done better offshore so we will work hard at improving our performances on the long legs to get more points. Plus, the sunny weather in the Gulf also means we can keep up our racing and training through the winter months, which is a real bonus. We get to visit places in this race that sailors don’t often see and we really enjoy that aspect of the event.”
The all-Omani crew comprising Team Renaissance features some familiar faces including three teammates from Oman Sail’s MOD70 Musandam-Oman Sail Sami Al Shukaili, Ali Al Balushi and Yasir Al Rahbi, all of them experienced EFG SATT campaigners. Abdul Al Mashari, a member of Team Renaissance last year and Akram Al Wahaibi will also be on board and together they make a very good team, says Al Hasni.
“I like pushing the guys to the limit since I know we are good as a team and we can get the most out of each race, whether we are inshore or offshore,” he said. “We train very hard to be ready to face any challenge but the main reason for doing EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour is to improve our overall sailing skills and get to be on the podium.”
The experience gained from six previous Tours will help Team Renaissance negotiate the more challenging parts of the course, Al Hasni added.
“It would be great to win but with our knowledge and experience, we are aiming to go one better than last year and finish on the podium in third place. Most of all we intend to enjoy the sailing, represent Oman with pride and have some fun!”
The Omani teams have welcomed the new, challenging route for 2017, announced earlier this year by organizers Oman Sail. The fleet of identical Farr 30s will start at Al Mouj in Muscat with an in-port race, then head north on the first leg to Sohar, a relatively short sprint of 105 nautical miles.
The second leg (140nm) will take them to Khasab, the capital of the Musandam Peninsula before the fleet heads to Abu Dhabi on a 153nm leg. It will be back to sea for a 160nm dash to Doha in Qatar where more points will be up for grabs in the second round of in-port races before the last and longest leg (205nm) to Dubai for a final round of in-port racing.
The 2017 EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour is the seventh edition of the race, which combines long offshore legs with high action in-port racing at venues along the 763nm course.
Oman Sail first launched the race in 2011 and since then, it has grown into the jewel in the crown of Middle East sailing, as the Gulf region’s only offshore event and the world’s only annual race of its type that combines a mix of long offshore legs and intense in-port racing. For more information, visit http://sailingarabiathetour.com